FEAST OF SS. PETER AND PAUL @ BASILICA OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY, ONITSHA.
Today is a great feast in the history of the Church. Traditionally, Peter and Paul are regarded as the founders of the Church in Rome. This is not a commemoration of the anniversary of their martyrdom. Historical facts indicate that Paul could have died after his long imprisonment in Rome about the year AD 62, while Peter could have been martyred about AD 64 during Emperor Nero’s persecution.
The anniversary of the institution of a joint observance in honour of the two Apostles is what the Church is celebrating: it is a celebration of the two great traditions of the Church on which the Church is founded. The traditions of stability and continuity are on one hand; enrichment and expansion on the other. Peter stands out as the custodian of tradition, stability and continuity while Paul stands tall as the line of enrichment and expansion.
Today, the Pope, the Holy Father, emphasizes the unity of the Church in discipline and doctrine by celebrating these two traditions of the Church, honouring the two great Apostles, and within the context he gives Pallium to new Metropolitan Archbishops as a sign of their submission as well as participation in his authority and the Key of Peter. It points to the oneness of the mission of the Church and unity of their administration.
Again, today in all the Catholic Basilicas in the world, the faithful who visit devoutly, who participate in some sacred rites like Holy Mass, recitation of the Divine Office, vespers, etc, in the same basilica, who at least recite Our Father, the Creed and our Marian prayer under usual conditions, can obtain a plenary indulgence. Therefore, for us, today is a day of special celebration and blessings.
Special days of favour and celebrations in all Basilicas:
1. Anniversary of the dedication of the church (5th December for us)
2. Feast of the church; in our case, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
3. Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul
4. Anniversary of the date of granting of the Basilica status – May 28
5. Once a year on the date chosen by the Archbishop (for us June 6)
6. Once a year on the date chosen by the individual
7. Anniversary of the election of the Pope (current Pope, Benedict XVI, is 19th April)
Acts 12: 1-11.
The fervent prayer of the Church furthers its mission. Peter’s life is saved through God’s special intervention by sending an angel to open doors. James was martyred. Remember God is still the same. The Church must not relent in prayer.
2Tim. 4: 4-8.
Paul is already being poured out as a libation – a sacrifice. The phrases are significant.
i. Poured out as a libation
ii. Fought a good fight
iii. Merited the crown
iv. Looks forward to…
The life of Paul is a life of total commitment, total dedication, total sacrifice to God. Hence Paul could say; “It is no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me.” “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” It did not matter to Paul whether he died or lived since the only thing of value is his faith in the Son of God who sacrificed his life for us.
In this text, Paul uses vivid imageries to declare his loyalty to God’s cause and his happy expectations having kept the faith.
Gospel. Matt. 16: 13-19.
Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah and Lord, the Son of God. His name is changed to rock and his mission defined. The institution of Peter’s office which is today preserved in the Papacy through the Vatican is located in this biblical text.
A look at the personalities of Jesus, Peter and Paul:
Peter is a very normal human person. He was very enthusiastic, truly charismatic but many times erred. If Peter could improve tremendously as he later did, it shows that we all have a chance. Christ called Peter when Peter was hardly aware of his potentials. Christ made demands on Peter, challenged him with responsibilities that made him grow. Affirmed him when he gave correct answers to the question regarding Christ’s personality, reproved and corrected him when the need arose, but above all, Christ loved Peter in spite of himself.
What can we learn?
i. Miracles happen when the Church prays.
ii. We can learn from Peter the need for on-going conversion.
iii. Goodwill, good intentions and unquestionable loyalty are clear characteristics of Peter. These enabled him to transcend his human frailties.
iv. From Paul we can learn unquestionable faith and undivided loyalty to God. His life is already poured out as a libation yet he has no regrets rather he joyfully awaits the crown of glory. This can only come from deep faith.
v. From, Christ we can learn to build up others in love. He demonstrated that patient endurance towards Peter and Paul: to Peter when he was yet to properly understand the demands of discipleship and to Paul even when he was yet persecuting the Church. He showed them that love which has no measure until they were able to respond to love, in love, to the point of shedding their blood for Christ.
i. We are called to imitate the goodwill, the good intentions of St. Peter; the rock-like faith of St. Paul and above all the measureless love of Christ.
ii. We are celebrating the unity of the Church and the authenticity of her leadership through the mandate of Peter.
iii. Finally, this year the Church has set aside a year from 29th June 2008 to the 29th June, 2009 as the year of St. Paul. This is to relive, commemorate and celebrate the gift of St. Paul by God, his life, his faith, his teachings and his legacies.
May this great celebration enrich our lives with an abundance of divine favours. Amen.
St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us.